Yorkshire 13 - Sheffield- Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, the birth of industrial scythe making and a carvery lunch


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August 2nd 2016
Published: August 2nd 2016
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That great body of Hindu writing the Dhammapada says that "Even if the water falls drop by drop it will fill the pot". So it does. Each day adds a drop of time like water dripping into a pot . It brings us closer to our last trip of the year to Europe. It is only 32 days until we leave for Cabbage Lane Caravan Park and head for the continent. Only 10 working days. Suzy has moved slightly. We started her engine up yesterday and whilst she was chugging away we rang the company that tracks her for us. It is five years since she was fitted with her tracker. Attached to her is something that talks to the satelites and then relays information to the tracking company. It is like an electronic tag on a prisoner sending information to the police all the time. Since fitted we have assumed it worked. So the phone call was made, the engine ticked over and they told us where they thought Suzy was at that moment in time. They did not give us the exact spot but were within a few hundred yards of our actual parking spot so relief was felt as we realised it still worked.

We are all castle'd out, we are all big houses out. Having spent a few hours I could not find anywhere to visit today. We need to get bums off seats and explore so more of our home area. But where? The fifty mile radius was applied . Been there, done it, seen it before. No gardens came to mind. Could we go to Nottingham to look at the castle? Was it worth a trip into Sherwood Forest in search of Robin Hood and his merry bunch of men.? Was there a castle close by? I had exhausted the best part of Derbyshire, most of Staffordshire and the bulk of Nottinghamshire. Moving outwards I had covered a fair proportion of South Yorkshire and into Lincolnshire. This was not going well when Glenn chirped up. Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. Sheffield just up the road. Seemed a fair idea. We had been to the other half of the museum complex at Kelham Island and seen the steelmaking heritage of the city. This time we were going back to a quieter pace of life. To a hamlet with a small industrial complex before steel, before mass production when water was king and the water wheel going round and round governed life in this small rural part of Sheffield.

As we stood looking at the huge dam that had been man made to provide the power for the wheels to turn I thought again about the thought of the day . Not only did time drip away but the rain came down drip by drip, the snow fell and melted and slowly filled this body of water which in turn turned the great wheels of industry that produced mainly scythe blades.

We drove into the site which is surprisingly green. Trees everywhere - not what you expect in one of the largest cities in England. The gentle sound of the road and the railway line as the trains run by is masked by the canopy of the green trees. It seems sureal and rather rural right in the heart of the city. The buildings stubborn and grey stoned. All listed now so they will be well looked after for the foreseeable future. They feel like Yorkshire. They look like Yorkshire. They remind us of industrial buildings of our childhood and they evoke memories as we walk through the complex. Nothing is artificial here. Not a stone nor a tile has been shipped in from other Yorkshire sites. What is here has been here for years. Weathered and green with moss and age. We pay our entrance fee of £3 each - concessionary . We are pensioners you know - I hear myself think. But we don't feel like pensioners.

Parking up we realise that this is a small site. Scattered around the perimetre of the car park are old tractors, old steam engines and old tilt hammers. The museum forms part of a former steel working site on the River Sheaf one of the tributaries of the Don. It has a history going back to at least the 13th century and consists of a number of dwellings and workshops that were in operation until the 1930's. We virtually had the place to ourselves. It is the school holidays but where are the kids? Just a few young children with their families . Just an odd one or two older children with grandparents. None of the hustle and bustle of a busy place. We were able to stroll and look and stroll and think .

We purposely missed the story about the hamlet and the exhibition. We could have sat for six minutes in the dark listening to and watching the screen as the story unfolded but it was easy to work it out without the film show. We stood outside and looked at the dam which powered the water wheel. The old brown wooden waterwheel turning and turning - slow revolutions . Sadly it was not connected by leather straps to other cogs so we had to use our imagination to work out how the machinery worked. There was none of the noise and the atmosphere is always somewhat sterile. The works would have been a hive of activity and noise as the great Jessop Tilt Hammers made in the early 1800's would have risen and fallen with a rhythmic thud and thump. Sparks would have flown off the metal. There would have smells and sounds sadly missing today.

The site was used for iron forging for 500 years, although there is evidence of other metal working prior to 1200 .. Its early history is intimately tied with the nearby Beauchief Abbey which operated a smithy as well as a number of mills along the river . Over the years the dam had been enlarged in 1777, the workmens cottages constructed in 1793, a grinding hull in 1817, construction of the managers house in 1838 . a coach house and stabling for horses in 1840 and finally construction of a warehouse in 1876. The hamlet was owned and run by Tyzak and Sons who were well known producers of fine saw blades.

From the water wheel we went downstairs to an area where the coal and coke were later stored. The brick built furnaces still standing. Examples of crucibles produced on site were lined up against the walls. Everything was made on site. It is not difficult to see in your minds eye the dirty young boys in their dirty coal dust covered clothing feeding the furnaces with sweat running down their faces. The puddlers ruddy faced puddling the steel, the clanging, the banging of hammers of metal and wood on metal. The red hot heat. For us we are not far from the old blacksmiths smithy , we remember the sights and the sounds, the heat, the warmth the smells . For the young it must seem hard to imagine this far away world.

We called into the counting house. It reminded me of the old pay office in the local coal mine where we went to pick up my grandmothers pension every Friday. A high desk with a high chair. An inkwell , receipts hanging on a hook from the ceiling. A foreman would have worked here from dawn to dusk helped by his clerk who would be learning the trade.

The workers cottages. The forge master and his family might live here in a two up and two down cottage. On the ground floor a black lead grate with boiler to provide a constant supply of hot water for washing and mashing the tea. An oven and a hob. We had one of those in my grandmothers house and weekly I helped to black lead it. A rag rug on the floor. Another in the process of being made. A scullery with belfast sink. Wooden stairs that lead up to a landing cum bed area full of small cots where the infants and babies would sleep. The main bedroom functional with a metal bed covered in hand made eiderdown. Religious scripts on the walls. God will always look over you and look after you they cried out. No carpet on the floor just bare wooden boards. Thin curtains to keep out the light.

Out again into the grinding hull where the work of creating sharp edges to the blades were given to the grinders. Their spinning grindstones creating dust and sparks . The stables with just enough room for a couple of horses. A carriage waiting for the master to use when he had a whim to visit town.

We saw the boring shop where the fitters drilled the blades for the sythes. Each man had a job and it was individual . He was skilled in what he did and passed on his knowledge to his sons. A task for everyone and everyone to the task . Hand forges and blacking shops. The scythes were painted black to prevent rust before they were wrapped in straw rope and stored.

Finally the managers house. Bigger and grander than the workers cottages. Just out of the way in a corner. Probably a tad quieter and it had a garden. A place to grow vegetables and to dry the washing. Inside three up and three down. On the ground floor two cosy sitting rooms with black lead grates. Comfortable seating. Cupboards full of crockery for Sunday best. Clocks. Comfort denied the ordinary worker who had to make do. A small kitchen/scullery and upstairs more comfortable well furnished bedrooms.

We were taken back in time to an era long gone. A Britain where industry in whatever fashion was King. Where we sold our goods to the world, to the empire to whoever wanted to buy them. We wondered where it had all gone to as we now seem to sell insurance and banking skills.

Lunch was at a local Toby pub where we knew we could get a carvery dinner. Welcomed we were directed to the grill where we had the choice of turkey, beef, gammon and pork with a huge selection of fresh steamed vegetables. What choice - creamy mashed potato garnished with parsley, carrots and rosemary, cauliflower cheese, fluffy roast potato, peas, brocolli the choices just kept coming. Gravy, redcurrant sauce , mint sauce , courgettes and yorkshire pudding. Well we are in Yorkshire we would be remiss if we did not partake of a well risen Yorkshire Pudding. Too soon our plates were empty . Just the remnants we could not finish and a tell tale colour of gravy on the plate . Despite the inclement British summer weather we had an interesting trip out and did a bit of industrial history for a change. Makes a change from castles and baroque piles .

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